Can You Have it All?

Life is about choices. That’s a truism my husband is fond of quoting and it was the first thing I thought about when I read the article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne Marie Slaughter in the summer issue of The Atlantic. 

The article which is accompanied by this interesting photograph, was forwarded to me by a friend who wanted to know what I thought about it. 

Hilary Clinton appointed Ms. Slaughter Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State in 2009, but in 2011 Ms. Slaughter left that post because she felt she needed to spend more time with her children. The purpose of her article was at least in part, to highlight the need for society to recognize the importance of parenting and take steps to make career and family life easier to balance.   Slaughter believes that while women today have many more professional opportunities than they did in the past, they still are at a disadvantage when it comes to career advancement because their role as a parent interferes with their ability to completely focus on their job and spend the amount of time required to be competitive.

As I was reading the Slaughter article several things came to mind ………

1) Most women in the developed world have the freedom to choose whether they will have children. If a financially lucrative, busy career is their top priority than they may have to consider not having children. I was offered my first administrative position the same week I found out I was pregnant with my older son.  I turned the position down. I know many women who have decided to make career decisions based not on how they can get ahead in their profession, but on how they can have more flexibility to care for their kids.  I think in our present day some men are also making career advancement less of priority in order to have more family time.

2) The kinds of choices Ms. Slaughter talks about in her article are a reality for a very small percentage of working women.  The majority of women have no choice about whether or not they will work outside the home. Their families can’t manage without their income. The economic recession, the rising price of houses, the high cost of providing food, clothing and many other physical and educational necessities for children, means women have to work not so their families can have it all, but so their families can survive.

3) How lucky we women are in North America to even have the choice to have children and careers. There are still countries of the world where birth control is not readily available or is even banned. There are places where women are the property of men. Their fathers, husbands and brothers make the decisions about whether they will have children or work outside the home.

4) What does is mean to have it all?  Does it mean a person has a happy and fulfilling family life and a career in which they achieve significant recognition and handsome financial reward for their efforts? Nothing guarantees that we will have it all. Does anyone ever have it all?  Despite our best intentions and our endless investment of time and love, family life can be disrupted and thrown into chaos by illness, infidelity, unemployment, death and addictions.  Despite our hard work and dedication we may not achieve career success because of politics or the economic climate.

Life is about choices. We have to live with the consequences of the choices we make. We have to choose our priorities wisely. We can be thankful if we are in a position to choose how to balance career and family because not everyone has that luxury.  As a society we have to choose whether we will pass legislation and develop policy that makes it easier for citizens to balance their professional lives and their parenting. We can choose to be happy about the choices we make. 

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Politics, Reflections

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